Whenever anyone talks about Spanish cinema, it’s impossible to ignore the achievements of Pedro Almodóvar, one of the most internationally successful Spanish filmmakers of all time. Born in 1949, Almodóvar has won countless awards for his work, including two Oscars, five BAFTAs, six European Film Awards, two Golden Globes, nine Goya Awards, and four prizes at the Cannes Film Festival, as well as the French Legion of Honour and the Gold Medal of Merit in the Fine Arts from the Spanish Ministry of Culture. Recently, he was awarded with an Honorary Golden Lion at the 76th Venice International Film Festival.
Barely 18 years old, Almodóvar moved from his rural hometown to Madrid to pursue his passion for filmmaking, and worked several jobs to support his art. Interested in experimental film and theatre, Almodóvar became a key figure in La Movida Madrileña (the Madrilenian Movement), a cultural renaissance that followed the death of Spanish dictator Francisco Franco.
Here is a look at some of the most important films of Almodóvar’s decades-spanning, award-winning, groundbreaking career as a director:
Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988)
Pepi, Luci, Bom was Almodóvar’s first feature as a director, but it was 1988’s Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown that launched him into the cinematic pantheon. The dark dramedy starred Carmen Maura and was an early breakout role for Antonio Banderas, who has remained a collaborator with Almodóvar to this day. The film, about a woman who is abandoned by her married boyfriend, was nominated for the 1988 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film and won five Goya Awards.
All About My Mother (1999)
In the eleven years between Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown and 1999’s All About My Mother, Almodóvar continued to make films that were critical and commercial hits, including Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (1990), High Heels (1991), and The Flower of My Secret (1993). All About My Mother is his best known film from the 1990s however, and opened the 1999 Cannes Film Festival, where Almodóvar won Best Director. The awards kept coming for the film, which explored themes of sisterhood and family, and earned Almodóvar his first Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, as well as a Golden Globe, two BAFTAs, and six Goya Awards.
Talk to Her (2002)
Talk to Her received nearly universal critical acclaim when it was released, employing unconventional cinematic techniques for mainstream films like modern dance and silent filmmaking. The film tells the story of two men who bond while taking care of a comatose woman they both love. Almodóvar won an Academy Award for Best Screenplay and was nominated for Best Director, cementing his status as not just an internationally respected filmmaker but one of the best in the industry.
Bad Education (2004)
Starring Gael García Bernal and Fele Martínez, Bad Education was a drama about child sexual abuse and mixed identities, and employs unconventional storytelling structure in its screenplay. The film opened at the 57th Cannes Film Festival and, among other awards, won the GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Film – Limited Release, in part for its deft portrayal of transsexuality.
Volver was a very personal film for Almodóvar, who used elements from his own childhood to craft a story about three generations of women as they deal with sexual abuse, grief, secrets, and death. The film was anchored by a powerful performance by Penélope Cruz, who earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress, the first Spanish actress to do so in that category.
The Skin I Live In (2011)
The Skin I Live In was Almodóvar’s first foray into psychological horror, and is loosely based on a French novel by Thierry Jonquet. The film stars Antonio Banderas as a plastic surgeon haunted by tragedy who is obsessed with creating burn-proof skin, and ends up keeping a prisoner in his mansion to achieve this. The film reunited Banderas with Almodóvar for the first time since Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown and employs a variety of cinematographic and editing techniques inspired by genre filmmakers like Alfred Hitchcock, Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci, and David Cronenberg.
Pain and Glory (2019)
Almodóvar’s latest film was released earlier this year and debuted at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival, where it competed for the Palme d’Or. Pain and Glory tells the story of a film director whose career has peaked, and again stars Antonio Banderas, who won the Best Actor award at Cannes for his work. The film was unsurprisingly a critical hit, and became the highest-grossing Spanish film of the year.